The struggle between the press and government is nearly as ancient as the establishment of media itself. What should and shouldn’t get published has always been a source of conflict. But, the recent debate over the New York Times publishing the actions taken by the U.S. Treasury in the pursuit of terrorist information has not only reawakened the issue within the minds of the American public, but has also taken a nasty turn, illuminating the rabid fervor with which Republicans will defend the actions of the current administration.
The leak of information responsible for eliciting such controversy was an article published by the N.Y. Times regarding the investigation by the Department of Treasury into a banking firm based in Belgium in the hunt for terrorist activities.
While many may argue that the press has a civic obligation to keep government activities secret, its true obligation is to the public and to holding the government accountable for its actions. The media does hold an obligation to the government and there are instances where information may need to be withheld for national security reasons. That much is true.
Every revealing story deserves the utmost discretion in deciding if it is in both the best interest of the public and of the government. In the case of the N.Y. Times article, the decision couldn’t have been better.
The article, “Bank Data is Sifted by U.S. in Secret to Block Terror,” published June 23, exposes no details of the bank records investigation. Terrorists are already entirely aware that the U.S. government is tracking their financial activity.
The overly patriotic language being used by Republicans and overwhelming domination of the issue is merely a ploy to draw attention away from the idea of violations of civil liberties or a slippery slope argument often employed by civil rights groups. They are also trying to rally waning supporters for the administration’s ongoing search for terrorists.
Also, with the upcoming midterm elections, Republicans, in true political form, are more astute to the opportunities for criticism and defend their actions before a single utterance of dissention is made.
Although defensiveness is a natural, predictable response to criticism of any politician or party, the discussion has taken an inappropriate and hateful turn as one right-wing commentator Melanie Morgan recently commented she “would have no problem with him [Bill Keller, the executive editor of the N.Y. Times] being sent to the gas chamber” for treason.
These remarks, while obviously ludicrous, are representative of the extreme nature of the far right and embody the very reason for a free press. The objective of the media is to allow for self-criticism and self-examination, thereby improving the existing conditions and norms accepted by the government. Without critical analysis of government actions, there may never have been a Food and Drug Administration, the war in Vietnam may have been prolonged longer than necessary and a number of corrupt politicians may have remained in office to continue their dishonest dealings indefinitely.
Remaining aware and knowledgeable about the actions of the government is vital to maintaining the freedoms currently enjoyed by U.S. citizens. Republican criticism of this much-needed public service is not only unpatriotic, but detrimental to the further enhancement of life in the United States.